An international team of scientists, led by Egyptian researchers, has made the pioneering discovery of a new species of extinct whale, ‘Tutcetus rayanensis’, which inhabited the ancient sea that covered present-day Egypt some 41 million years ago, according to a publication in the journal ‘Communications Biology’.
This new whale is the smallest basilosaurid known to date and one of the oldest records of that family in Africa. Despite its diminutive size, Tutcetus has provided unprecedented data on the life history, phylogeny, and paleobiogeography of the earliest whales.
The Basilosauridae, a group of extinct fully aquatic whales, represent a crucial stage in the evolution of whales, in their transition from land to sea. They developed fish-like features, such as a streamlined body, strong tail, fins, and caudal fin, and had the last hind limbs visible enough to be recognized as “legs,” which were not used for walking, but rather for walking. possibly to mate.
The newly discovered ‘Tutcetus rayanensis’ was found in middle Eocene rocks and, unambiguously, helps clarify the picture of the early evolution of whales in Africa. The name of the new whale is inspired by both Egyptian history and the place where the specimen was found.
The generic name, Tutcetus, combines “Tut” –in reference to the famous Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen– and “cetus”, Greek for whale, to highlight the small size of the specimen and its condition as a subadult. The name also commemorates the discovery of the king’s tomb a century ago and coincides with the imminent opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza. The species name, rayanensis, refers to the protected area of Wadi El-Rayan, in Fayoum, where the holotype was found.